National's Chickens Coming Home to Roost
When National grasped the reigns of power they had two agendas, their neoliberal semi-secret one and their public one.
Their secret agenda was well described in Nicky Hager's The Hollow Men and it hasn't changed much from the Brash vision pre 2005. The National Party is no longer the broad church it was in the 1960s; champions of small business, farmers and rural New Zealand. Over the last twenty years it has become much more an enthusiastic advocate for big business and their door is always open to well paid PR people and corporate lobbyists.
National never campaigned on giving large tax cuts to the wealthy, gifting tens of millions to private schools and providing corporate subsidies to the likes of Warner Bros, Rio Tinto and Sky City, but it happened anyway. Making sure employment law favoured employers and further marginalizing unions was also a secret priority, as was removing impediments to business developments by weakening environmental protections and limiting community consultation.
They have largely achieved their secret agenda and their rich and corporate supporters have benefited hugely and New Zealand now has the fastest growing income inequality in the OECD. John Key and his cabinet mates have enjoyed all the grateful attention of those who they have served so well.
The National Party's public agenda hasn't gone so well and they have largely failed to deliver on the assurances and promises they made to ordinary New Zealanders. They were going to bring prosperity to us all and lift our incomes to that of Australia. We were going mine and drill for valuable minerals (where ever they may be) and build many Roads of National Significance. They wanted mum and dad New Zealanders to profit from the partial sale of our state owned enterprises, not only would it allow many more of us to profit from valuable shares but we would have more money to build schools and hospitals. If all else fails we can always rely on a rapidly expanding dairy industry. They planned to grow chickens into golden geese and everyone was supposed to benefit.
Things have not gone to plan, the chickens are coming home to roost and they look more like damaged battery hens with no sign of a golden egg and only a few handfuls of crumbling lignite briquettes instead. It's a sad story indeed:
- National Standards were going to be the panacea for all our educational ills and it was forced onto schools, despite professional concerns, with threats of sackings and commissioners. League Tables have been produced using the ropey data (Key's description) and yet five years down the track Maori and Pasifika children are well tested but no better off. National Standards have failed and their introduction of Act's Charter schools are predicted to perform just as badly as they have overseas.
- National's enthusiasm to mine, frack and drill the living daylights out of our country received a few setbacks when tens of thousands marched against mining in our National Parks. The flagship of the mining policy, Solid Energy, then went belly up when its dreams of a coal nirvana turned out to be lignitemares and is now being bailed out by $155 million of taxpayer money and Australian banks are becoming major owners.
- The National led Government opened our territorial waters for oil exploration to all and sundry and despite the moderate royalties and enthusiasm from oil companies, the Gulf of Mexico and the Rena disaster are still fresh in our memories. Energy and Resources Minister, Simon Bridges, has failed to reassure Kaikoura people whose lives are dependent on a clean environment. Bridges' manic Campbell live interview was illuminating when he evaded questions regarding the potential hazards of drilling at a depth twice that of other rigs we have hosted. Despite the apparent robust layers of regulations he claimed were in place, the fact that exploratory drilling isn't a notifiable activity (the Gulf drilling was also exploratory) and protestors have been banned is an obvious concern.
- The Roads of National Significance are also receiving closer scrutiny and proper cost benefit analysis fails with many. A number of regions are complaining that the cuts in road funding to finance the $12 billion initiative are causing economic disadvantage.
- The Christchurch reconstruction was also supposed to provide jobs for New Zealanders but we have seen a lack of investment in trades training that will mean that much of the workforce employed in our construction industry will be imported and their wages will be largely heading back to their home countries. Our unemployment levels are little changed and our youth are particularly suffering.
- The dairy industry has expanded rapidly with irrigation subsidized and an Environment Council sacked when water wasn't made available fast enough. While Fonterra has played a huge role in providing a steady export income, it has cost us our rivers. The success of Fonterra has been threatened with some international revelations that our clean green image is a sham and the admission that the Ministry of Primary Industry is seriously underfunded. We have all our agricultural eggs in one basket and we are close to losing them.
- The sale of state assets has resulted in angry protests, a successful referendum, dropping share prices and a buy back. Meanwhile electricity prices have continued to rise.
After five years of a National led Government the top 30% of earners have done well but the remaining 70% are becoming aware that the promises and plans directed at them have been poorly researched, shockingly implemented and are largely falling apart. We have experienced governance of the rich, by the rich, for the rich and the rest of us are becoming even more aware about what we need to do in 2014.